Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get In Our Own Way
The expression “you are your own worst enemy” rings true for most of us. How many times have we acted against our self-interest, then asked ourselves why did we self-destruct? Why did we say that to a loved one? Why did we procrastinate on that project? Why have we stopped doing that one thing that makes us feel great? Self sabotaging thoughts and behaviors are perpetuated by an inner critic we all possess, which psychologist and author Robert Firestone, calls the “critical inner voice.”
The critical inner voice doesn’t represent a positive sense of self that you can entrust in. Rather, it epitomizes a cruel “anti-self,” a part inside us that is turned against us. It casts doubt on our abilities, undermines our desires, and convinces us to be paranoid and suspicious toward ourselves and those close to us. This anti-self fills our mind with critical self-analysis and self-sabotaging thoughts that lead us to hold back or steer away from our true goals.
Where Self Sabotaging Thoughts Come From
Our critical inner voice is formed from our early life experiences. Without realizing it, we tend to internalize attitudes that were directed toward us by parents or influential caretakers throughout our development. For example, if our parent saw us as lazy, we may grow up feeling useless or ineffective. We may then engage in a self sabotaging thoughts that tell us not to try, i.e.“Why bother? You’ll never succeed anyway. You just don’t have the energy to get anything done”
In a similar manner, children can internalize negative thoughts that their parents or early caretakers have toward themselves. If we grew up with a self-hating parent, who often viewed themselves as weak or a failure, we may grow up with similar self sabotaging attitudes toward ourselves. For instance, if our parent felt critical of their appearance, we may take on similar insecurities without realizing it. We may feel easily self-conscious and less sure of ourselves in social or public situations.
We can’t change the past. Yet, as adults, we can identify the self sabotaging thoughts that we’ve internalized and consciously choose to act against them. When we fall victim to our critical inner voice and listen to its directives, we often engage in self limiting or self sabotaging behaviors that hurt us in our daily lives. As author Elizabeth Gilbert put it, “You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.”